SU's Kayla Clark and Club Chaos
Chaos can be productive.
For Kayla Clark, her home life had its moments in a household with four kids, three dogs and two moms.
Sure, but “controlled chaotic” as Kayla Clark would say.
Now, as the president of the Syracuse University women’s club basketball team, chaos has its benefits as well.
“We play best when we create total chaos… and we thrive in it,” Clark said. “We press, we cause chaos with the other team, we (force the other team to) turn the ball over and we score.”
Creating discomfort for opponents is easy for Clark, who has found herself in settings where others might not settle in and thrive.
Home and Happiness
Having two moms is not as unusual as it once was, and Clark is certainly the product of the parenting of Theresa Najjar and Adrienne Burmeister.
The two were once separate, but both families lived in the same neighborhood and did everything together. Clark described how Najjar and Burmeister blended into one family as kind of the whole “romcom” type situation.
“It honestly made growing up easier because my step siblings were already my best friends and my stepmom was basically my second mom,” said Clark. “We were all just best friends who became siblings. I think having a relationship with each other before our moms got together made us all super close. We were also all going through the same thing, and it really brought all of us together and made us who we are today. I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Playing lacrosse, basketball and field hockey at Holmdel High school in New Jersey, Clark prepared herself to handle all that was thrown at her at Syracuse. Even the disappointment of missing club basketball tryouts — something she wanted to join since she stepped foot on campus — because she was up until dawn working on a class project.
But that was just a momentary setback for Clark.
“Kayla is one of the most determined young ladies I know, when she has a goal, she does everything in her power to attain it,” Najjar said. “She has truly amazed me with everything in her life that she has tried to accomplish.”
The strong family support network helped build that resilience. Clark and her three siblings — Kinsey, Kelly and Kevin — often would walk to the beach, going to the dog park with their three golden retrievers, Hudson, Shay and Maya. They’d eat bagels and Jersey pizza on their way, the best in the country Clark says. All four were super close growing up and were always there to support the other, even after splitting up to four different universities.
Though more than a bit confident that she could beat them all in one-on-one hoops, Clark said watching her sister’s work-ethic in lacrosse helped her when she applied it to her basketball skills.
“She was a really good lacrosse player and I kind of translated that into basketball.” Clark said.
Triple Sport Athlete
Whatever time management issues she encounters in college, Clark has enough experience in juggling multiple responsibilities that she’s able to manage. Specifically, playing three sports in high school kept her moving and exhausted.
“I would go to practice from 3-5, immediately go home, eat, shower, and go to bed.” Clark said “I think I just got used to it… it was a set rhythm.”
Clark stayed busy whether it was on a field or on the court, balancing basketball, field hockey and lacrosse. But her heart was always tugged back to the court as basketball was where her love was most focused.
At Holmdel, Clark was in National Honor Society and the National Art Society. Although she was heavily involved in sports, she was more of an introvert with her words, explaining through her playing skills. She was a silent killer on the court, always doing the dirty work defensively and picking everyone up through hustle.
“I still play and lead that way now. I’m always on the floor and diving for the ball and being aggressive,” Clark said. “I treat my team like family. I’ll protect them and have their backs no matter what, which translates into my silent, aggressive leadership style. Kind of like a momma bear who will attack whoever tries to hurt her cubs.”
Like many college athletes, Clark’s career goals didn’t align with her athletic aspirations. Clark loved being on the court, but did not want to settle on an educational experience that would not set her up for success in her professional life.
A couple hundred miles from her hometown, Clark found her place at Syracuse, studying architecture, a highly challenging curriculum.
Back on the Court
Once Clark set her major, things fell into place.
“I realized I wanted to major in architecture… (Syracuse’s) program is top 5 in the country… I started looking at programs based on that [architecture] and said I can always play club, which I did,” Clark said.” “I think that it was a really good decision, and I am really happy about it.”
Her college hoops journey started at a Syracuse club sports fair. She forgot about the first day of tryouts but made sure to go for day two and showed out in a big way.
“I think that was the best moment I played basketball in my life, that tryout,” Clark said. “I’ve never played better basketball since.”
Working her way to becoming president, she not only made an impact on the court, but also on her teammates more than she could ever know.
“I do not know where I would be without her, she was that older wiser person I needed and everything that I was going through, she went through… there was always a conscious effort from her part to check in on us and know how were doing.” Jacqueline Ritz said.
Once she became president of the team, she was introduced to a former Syracuse Stallion player that eventually became their head coach, James Jones.
Clark soon realized the team had a shot at making a big run.
When anyone thinks of a coach saying, “our team is complete chaos,” no one would think that’s a positive type of play. But it was exactly what Syracuse implemented to win and stay on top. Syracuse won regionals and is now looking to make a final run in the national championship.
Bigger than Basketball
Clark gains praise for her in-game efforts, but teammates also laud her as a person, saying she always makes it a priority for everyone on the team to know each other, knowing outside relationships affect play. Clark takes advantage of the time she had to make sure everyone knew each other.
“Whether Kayla likes it or not she has made a big impact on everyone she’s ever met,” said Mattie Milkowski, her hometown friend. “She would help her teammates with different plays if they didn’t understand it fully. She would encourage her teammates to keep up with her in drills. She would (and still does) lead her team by example. Kayla is always there to brighten your day; she is a ray of sunshine, and it is a never a cloudy day when you are with her.”
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